Money Laundering, Political Style

January 12, 2013

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One of the more interesting things just coming out of this past November’s election is the effect Citizen’s United had. For those of you living under a rock or just not up on politics of the past 4 years, in a completely partisan decision the Supreme Court in early 2010 said that no limits or bans may be placed on corporate political spending.  Indeed, political spending of all types was up, including so-called “Super PAC” spending that went up almost an order of magnitude, about 80 million to 800 million.

Let’s move the spotlight a bit onto an old player of the political stage, Dick Morris. Mr. Morris is widely credited with helping Bill Clinton in his successful bid for the 1978 Arkansas governorship, and then in 1996 was considered one of the key advisers in Clinton’s 1996 presidential re-election campaign. Then months before the 1996 election during the Democratic National Convention, it was revealed that Morris not only had an affair with a prostitute, he allowed said prostitute to listen in on conversations with the president.  Morris did indeed go away quietly for a little while, but then decided to re-invent himself as one of the biggest critics of the very man he helped re-elect. He’s practically made a career out of trashing the Clintons at every opportunity, including some epic bizarre claims – he actually suggested in 2012 that Bill Clinton wanted Obama to lose the election, but was “forced” to help him win because Obama was holding Hillary Clinton hostage.

So what are you to do if you’re now an extremely partisan talking head and the Supreme Court has ruled the corporate purse-strings to be taken off? You start a Super PAC and ask for donations like there’s no tomorrow.  There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s the whole point of a Super PAC – raise and spend as much as possible as a means for a specific political end. But this Super PAC that Dick Morris is chief strategist for and campaigned heavily for has some very interesting expenses – it paid about 1.7 million dollars to a company called NewsMax Media. It turns out that NewsMax Media actually manages the opt-in e-mail list that Dick Morris runs.  Confusing? Let’s break it down a bit – Dick Morris is Chief Political Strategist at SuperPAC for America. Dick Morris also has an e-mail list that contains hundreds of thousands of opt-in subscribers who want to find out his and his friends political spins on things. SuperPAC for America paid the company that manages Dick Morris e-mail list 1.7 million dollars for the rights to use that list. I have zero doubts that SuperPAC for America raised a lot more than 1.7 million dollars, but it would appear that it’s not at all a stretch to say that Dick Morris used the guise of political fundraising to quietly filter a large chunk of money, indirectly, to himself.

I’m certainly not the first to point out these facts and suggest that on the surface, at least, it looks like money laundering. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow made these claims on her show this past December, and not long after Dick Morris’ army of lawyers contacted her, apparently incensed about … something? It’s hard to tell what, exactly. According to, the lawyers were upset that she actually used the 1.7 million dollar figure, but they appear to have not denied that the money was filtered from SuperPAC for America which Dick Morris founded and is the “Chief Strategist” for, and went to NewsMax Media which manages Dick Morris’ e-mail list and pays him lots for the use of it.

Welcome to modern politics, where corporations can not only spend millions or even billions on political issues, but the money you donate can be given to a man who was once disgraced for having an affair with a prostitute and letting that prostitute listen in on presidential conversations.

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The Republican Party’s Core Beliefs

December 13, 2012

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One of the most interesting things about the modern Republican Party is their strange penchant for pushing and/or believing in ideas that can be factually proven as incorrect or at the very least incompatible with their “core beliefs.” I’m not entirely sure what Republican “core beliefs” are, but from what I can gather from Fox News snippets and what my friends say, they want small government, low taxes, and lots of personal freedom – or at least the freedom for their state to choose what defines personal freedom.

On the first issue, small government, let me start out by saying that the single biggest expansion of federal government since FDR came from … no. Not Barack Obama. Not Bill Clinton, either. It wasn’t Jimmy Carter. Not even JFK. The single biggest expansion of the US Government came from George W. Bush and his creation of the Homeland Security Department . The Reagan administration, after lambasting Jimmy Carter during the 1980 presidential campaign for governmental spending, actually spent MORE than Carter did.  So according to what they say, Republicans favor small government and lowering government spending, but according to what they do, they actually increase government size and spend more? I wonder why Mitch McConnell is so intent on criticizing President Obama for government spending, yet he voted along with the vast majority of George W. Bush’s spending, and Bush’s rate of spending was higher than Obama’s.  I don’t remember him ever once criticizing Bush’s spending record.


Next we get to Republicans wanting low taxes. This one they actually seem to deliver on, wanting to lower taxes across the board, but especially on those poor, overburdened millionaires. Yet the reasons they claim taxes should go down just don’t seem to mesh with reality. First and foremost they say that so-called “job creators” aren’t hiring because their tax burden is too crushing. Yet history disagrees with that assessment – in fact whenever the marginal tax rate on upper brackets is lowered history has shown lower growth. In fact the Congressional Research Office came to the same conclusion:

There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth. Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth.

I would love to get Mitch McConnell or John Boehner in a room and get their opinions on those facts.

Finally we get to the issue on personal freedom. One of the Tea Parties greatest cries against that “socialist, fascist” Obama is that he’s crushing our personal freedoms. As I wrote about in my last article, the NRA supported Mitt Romney in this most recent presidential election, dredging up scary stories that Obama was going to be personally taking all your guns and this was despite the fact that in Obama’s first term he actually loosened gun laws, and in Mitt Romney’s term as governor he signed a gun restricting bill into law.

In addition, Republicans seem to be on the side of banning “gay marriage” (or as my gay friends call it, “marriage”) despite the fact that no factual evidence to say it’s better or worse than heterosexual marriage. Go ahead, search the internet and find a non-biased site that offers peer-reviewed and cited facts showing somehow that men marrying men or women marrying women is somehow worse for society, children or the marriage itself. If it’s no worse for people, does not infringe upon others, and is not being forced on society (legalizing same-sex unions will not force churches to marry anyone), why is it being suppressed by Republicans?

Finally on the personal freedom issue, I was very happy to see that Washington State has legalized marijuana for recreational use. Two of the most recent Republican presidential candidates agreed with me. Ron Paul and Gary Johnson actually said they would not only legalize marijuana but also consider even more sweeping changes such as ending the war on drugs and pardoning anyone in prison for non-violent marijuana crimes.  Sadly the rest of the mainstream Republican candidates ranged from a non-stance – Rick Perry stating he’s personally against any use, but ok with states deciding medical use – to a psychotically harsh stance -Newt Gingrich sponsoring a bill that would see the death penalty used for people importing more than 2 ounces.  Seeing as there’s little evidence that marijuana is worse for you than alcohol or tobacco and much stands to be gained from the taxation of legal marijuana, including a drastic reduction in violent crime, I wonder once again why Republicans would go against their stance on personal freedom here.

So to sum it up, I have a hard time giving any support or even credibility to a political party that says one thing and then does the polar opposite. I’d actually LOVE to see a more viable Republican party because frankly I’m sick of the vast majority of Democratic politicians. As a friend of mine says often, “We don’t need a 3rd political party, we need a 2nd one.”


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The Role of Today’s NRA

October 11, 2012

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The NRA, the National Rifle Association. It was formed in 1871 out of Union Civil War veterans in New York state, partly because Union small arms accuracy had been so atrocious during the war – it was rumored that for every 1000 shots fired, a Union soldier would hit once. According to their charter, they advocate for “the protection of the Second Amendment of the United States Bill of Rights, and the promotion of firearm ownership rights as well as marksmanship, firearm safety, and the protection of hunting and self-defense in the United States.”

The NRA has a widespread reputation for being a lobbying group as well, with members of Congress ranking it the most powerful lobbying organization in American politics. In 1980 the organization made their first endorsement of a presidential candidate, endorsing Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter. I have zero problem with this, as one of Carter’s cabinet members was a very strong proponent of gun control, and this group seeks to uphold the second amendment – I.E. the organization was endorsing the candidate which had clearly demonstrated in the past to have values most similar with the NRA. In addition, the NRA has publicly stated that they will endorse an incumbent candidate every time in an area where both candidates are similar on their gun control and second amendment philosophies.

Recently in four “battleground” states, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, the NRA has starting airing an advertisement urging voters to defeat Barack Obama. President Obama, the incumbent (and remember how the NRA feels about incumbents) has generally left gun laws alone, and in fact is in favor more on the side of state and municipality rights over federal rights on gun control.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, actually signed into law an assault rifle ban while governor of Massachusetts. Not surprisingly, Mr. Romney has moved away from his tough stance on gun control – see my previous article for many more examples of issues where Mitt Romney has done a 180. In addition, Mr. Romney has previously said he was a full supporter of Massachusetts’ tough laws on gun control and said, “That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA.”

So I’m curious, if President Obama has largely left existing gun laws intact, and in addition he legalized carrying concealed weapons in national parks and in checked luggage on Amtrak trains, why is the NRA endorsing Romney?   Even if they were identical in history, (because with Romney you can’t count what he’s done or said in the past, he’ll just contradict it) wouldn’t the NRA – according to their own policy – support President Obama in this case because he’s the incumbent? Paul Ryan – Romney’s own VP pick – said, “I don’t even think President Obama is proposing more gun laws.”

It’s sad to see that the NRA has moved beyond their historical and charter issues to become a purely political organization. If you’re really paying attention to the facts and you wanted to vote on 2nd amendment and gun control issues alone, Obama would be the choice in this case. President Obama has had plenty of chances to use public sentiment to push anti-gun control law: Gabby Giffords, the mass shooting in Aurora, and the Illinois mosque shooting, sadly just to name a few. He hasn’t, though. That leaves two reasons why they’ve endorsed Mitt Romney, either they’re buying into the right-wing hype with despite a lack of facts and are scared Obama is going to do something, or they’ve decided they’d rather disregard their purpose and just become a purely political organization.

Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?

September 13, 2012

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BELMONT, MA - MARCH 06:  Republican presidenti...

Mitt Romney

Willard “Mitt” Romney came to be in Massachusetts in the late 70’s as an adviser to an intermediate level president in the LDS (Mormon) Church. Eventually he lead the Boston Stake, which included some 4000 members of the LDS. In the early 90’s he decided to give a try at politics, having been successful at business -with just a tiny bit of help from an extremely large sum of wealth left to him by his father. He changed his political affiliation from Independent in 1994 to Republican to run against Democrat Ted Kennedy, who while normally was extremely popular had recently endured some family embarrassment stemming from a court case.  In fact, Romney had voted in the Democratic Presidential Primary in 1992, the election year that would eventually see Bill Clinton become president. So in a two year span he went from voting for a Democrat in a Presidential Primary to registering as a Republican to run against a Kennedy. So strong were his convictions in his personal beliefs he told his brother, “I never want to run for something again unless I can win.”   Because front-runners always stick with their convictions.

While head of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics, Mr. Romney aggressively lobbied Congress for federal contribution of somewhere between $400 million and $600 million, plus an additional 1 billion dollars in infrastructure projects. While some have said this money was needed to “save” the Olympic Winter Games that year as it was having fiscal trouble, other reports have said the much of the funding was already set and Romney played the hero simply to propel himself into the public spotlight as a savior.  Regardless of his motives, I find it funny that a man who so aggressively asked for over a billion dollars of federal money in 2002 now wants to run the government under the guise of limiting federal spending and allowing private business to function without federal oversight. Every filthy rich business man wants government’s nose out of their business, but many seem to want government’s wallet in their business.

In 2002 Mitt’s “home” state of Massachusetts had an unpopular Republican governor plagued by personal scandals, and even those in the White House wanted the incumbent gone and Mitt Romney in.  After a bit of a see-saw campaign, Romney won the vote 50%-45% over State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, and although he claims that he immediately faced a deficit of $3 billion, he conveniently overlooks the fact that the state was getting $1.3 billion from capital gains and an additional $500 million in federal grants. Once again, the current small-government Mitt used half a billion federal dollars in 2002/2003 to help fix problems in his state, and then act like he saved the day.  Things weren’t all bad for Massachusetts when Mitt was governor, Ted Kennedy’s dream of near-universal health care came true when in 2006 Romney signed into law “Romneycare.” One of the centerpieces of this law was the individual mandate – that all residents must have health insurance if financially able or face escalating tax increases. He was so proud of the individual mandate that he wrote in his book that it should be the centerpiece of national health care.  Yet on the campaign trail this year he’s called Obamacare’s mandate a tax, and has said the first thing he would do as President is grant waivers to ignore it.

I do not begrudge Mr. Romney his money, all current indications are that he made it legally, but we have a man who has continually changed his political stance to expedite his political career, and that’s simply not the person I want leading the country, despite all of the shortcomings of Barrack Obama. Please also note that what I wrote about here are just a few of the things Mitt has flip-flopped on, watch the last link in this article – it’s a very well-crafted video that pretty clearly shows – with context – how many issues Romney has done a 180 on.

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Can Better Mental Healthcare Prevent Violence?

August 9, 2012

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CENTENNIAL, CO - JULY 23:  James Holmes (L) ma...

James Holmes

Water tossed into hot oil. Sodium tossed into water. Mentos tossed into a 2 liter bottle of soda. Some of the least restrictive gun laws in the world combined with a mental health care system that’s decades behind. Yup, I’m talking about things that don’t go well together.

First, let me get this out of the way: I’m not advocating taking away anyone’s rights to own a firearm. If I had more income to toss away I’d consider owning a handgun myself for the purpose of target shooting at a range – the Glock 19 just looks darn cool. That being said, there are a lot of improvements we can make to ensure mentally unstable people get the help they need. In absence of a gun, a desperate and mentally ill person will use other methods – in 2008 a Japanese man in Akihabara drove a truck into a crowd and then jumped out and started stabbing people. Guns don’t kill people, but they certainly make it orders of magnitude easier to kill people.

We’re all well aware of some of the more hyped mass shootings, but to see the list laid out is shocking. This list I’ve compiled, just from 1999 onward, is depressingly lengthy:

  • April 1999, Columbine.
  • July 1999, An Atlanta daytrader kills his family and then went to a trading firm and killed 9 more and wounded 13.
  • September 1999, A man opens fire in a Baptist church in Fort Worth, Texas, killing 7.
  • October 2002, A man and a minor carry out a series of 11 sniper-style shootings around the DC Beltway and in Northern Virginia.
  • August 2003, A Chicago man returns to where he was fired from 6 months prior and kills 6.
  • November 2004, In a hunting dispute in northern Wisconsin, six are killed and 2 are wounded.
  • March 2005, A man opens fire in a church killing 7, including the pastor and the pastor’s son.
  • October 2006, A milk truck driver enters an Amish school and in execution style kills 5 and severely wounds 6.
  • April 2007, Virginia Tech shootings.
  • August 2007, Three Delaware State students are shot execution style.
  • December 2007, A 20 year old man kills 9 and wounds 5 in a shopping center in Nebraska.
  • December 2007, A woman and her boyfriend shoot and kill 6 members of her family in their Washington State home, including 2 children.
  • February 2008, At a clothing store in Chicago in what authorities think is a robbery-gone-wrong, a man kills 5 and wounds another. The unidentified man is still at large.
  • February 2008, At Northern Illinois University a man kills 5 and wounds 21 before killing himself.
  • September 2008, A mentally ill man released from prison a month earlier shoots 8, killing 6 in Alger Washington.
  • December 2008, A man in a Santa Claus suit opens fire at a family Christmas party, then sets fire to the house and later kills himself. Nine were found dead in the house.
  • March 2009, A recently laid off man kills 11 in multiple locations, including 2 children.
  • March 2009, A heavily armed man kills 8 and wounds 2 at a Carthage, NC nursing home.
  • March 2009, Six people are shot dead in an upscale apartment building in Santa Clara, CA.
  • April 2009, A man enters a civic center in Binghamton, NY, and kills 13 before turning the gun on himself.
  • July 2009, Eight are shot in a drive by shooting on the campus of Texas Southern University, police conclude that it was gang-related.
  • November 2009, A US Army psychologist at Fort Hood, TX, kills 13 and wounds 29 others.
  • January 2010, A man near Appomattox, VA, kills 8 before being apprehended by over 100 police officers.
  • February 2010, A faculty member at The University of Alabama kills 3 and wounds 3 at a biology department meeting.
  • January 2011, Tuscon, AZ mass shooting. 18 people are shot including sitting US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, 9 die.
  • July 2012, Aurora, CO movie theater shootings
  • August 2012, A suspected White Supremacist enters a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and kills six and wounds 4 before being shot by police and then dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Please note, this is not even a complete list.

In the vast majority of these cases the people pulling the triggers had a severe mental health problem. I could write a whole other article or three on mental health parity in the United States, but to sum it up, mental health is decades behind “the rest” of health care. Anecdotally, I can say that I’ve actually met more than one doctor who says depression is “all in your head” – while technically true, I suppose, they seem to feel it’s not unlike attitude and you can just change how you feel. In addition, mental health issues are often misdiagnosed or go years without diagnosis. For example, as recently as 2000 a study showed that up to 69% of people with bipolar disorder were misdiagnosed and the average length of time that passes without a correct diagnosis can be as much as 10 years. Even when correctly diagnosed, at times law enforcement professionals are either untrained in proper procedure or unwilling to take a claim seriously. Recent evidence shows that James Holmes’ psychiatrist warned police that he was a danger weeks before the Aurora, CO shootings.

Next, there is the very real issue of mental health issues having a stigma of weakness or instability associated with them. Many people don’t seek help for mental illness thinking that the problem is temporary, or not treatable. Others don’t seek help for fear of being marginalized – the media often associates mental illness with violence and aberrant behavior.  The glorification of the American media has molded an image of the perfect person that is often near-unobtainable. We think that everyone should be content, cheerful, witty, grounded, have a great job, and a body like a supermodel and anything outside these “norms” has something wrong with them. Even when confiding with family and friends people are often told they simply need to sleep more, or cheer up, or pray more – dangerous things to tell someone who is depressed.

Finally, mental health is still seen as a sticky area by insurance companies. It can sometimes take years between first seeing a doctor to when a patient then sees a referred psychiatrist. In 2010 in Arizona only 5% of insurance companies offered equal benefits for mental issues vs. other health issues. As recently as 2006 the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave the US a grade of “D” on mental health treatment and awareness. It’s ironic that some politicians claim the government is trying to get between you and your doctor when health care companies already do when your doctor refers you to a psychologist – all in the interest of their profit.

What can be done? First and foremost both the general public and the insurance companies need to realize that mental health is at least as important as the health of any other specific area. We are people because of our thoughts and deeds and emotions, not because we have good blood sugar levels or need a pill to get an erection. Being able to tell a doctor you’re depressed or anxious shouldn’t be a big deal. Having your health insurance fully cover your visit to a psychiatrist should be a no-brainer. If that doctor then refers you to counseling, that should also be covered. Finally better training for law enforcement on working with mental health professionals needs to be implemented. As seen with Aurora, CO, that could have made all the difference.

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Is Justice Scalia Incompetent or Just Biased?

July 12, 2012

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 05:  Supreme Court Ju...

Antonin Scalia

A trendy right-wing talking point that was very popular around the times of the Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings was how deplorable the concept of “legislating from the bench” is, or how horrible a “activist judge” is. Essentially this means that a judge has not applied existing law or legal history and has instead applied their personal or political views and feelings to decide the outcome of a case. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia has claimed that judicial activism upsets the balance of power between the three branches of government by granting drastically more power to the judicial branch.  Ironic, considering his recent opinions.

Just a little bit on Scalia history, he was appointed by the Republican Bronze Idol himself, Ronald Reagan, in 1986, and his nomination came shortly after a highly contentious SCotUS confirmation hearing – thus he faced much less scrutiny than many other prospective SCotUS judges have. He has criticized his fellow Supreme Court judges before in highly hyperbolic fashion, calling colleagues who disagree with him “perverse” or “irrational.” He’s also had controversial cases where he’s refused to recuse himself, most notably in a two cases; the Sierra Club vs. a federal fossil fuel task force headed by Dick Cheney, Scalia’s duck-hunting partner, and the now infamous Citizen’s United case where he was a personal guest of billionaire Charles Koch who was a zealous vocal and monetary supporter of Citizen’s United.

While behavior like that can be overlooked as it technically falls within the boundary of established guidelines and SCotUS precedent, two recent dissenting opinions written by Scalia show he has clearly decided his personal political feelings outweigh his responsibility of being an impartial reviewer of established law. In June Scalia penned the dissent in Arizona v. United States and said that the role of the state should outweigh the role of the federal government in immigration cases because in the first 100 years of our country’s history states had vast experience in dealing with non-citizens crossing state lines. Lest you be behind on your history, let me remind you that a massive percentage of “immigration” in the US from the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s dealt with African American slaves moving throughout the Southeast US. Even if he had cited specific non-slave times when states where better equipped to handle immigration than the Federal Government, article 1 section 8 of the US Constitution states Congress is responsible for naturalization, the most commonly used term for immigration in the 18th century.

Second was his dissent on the Affordable Care Act, widely known as “Obamacare.” In the dissent he says that the Supreme Court accepts Congress’ power to tax those who don’t have health insurance yet can afford it (the individual mandate) is akin to Congress having power to “force” you to participate in Social Security simply because you “breathe in and out.”  I.E. Scalia is taking a widely accepted and proven safety net from the time of the Great Depression and more or less calling it totalitarian. I suppose he forgot that political and economic misfortune caused hundreds of thousands of elderly to die a lonely cold death before Social Security existed. Later in the dissent he says that because the individual mandate should be thrown out, the whole law should get thrown out. The last time I heard an argument like that was in the movie “Animal House” when Otter was arguing Delta’s right to exist in front of the Student Court.

If Scalia keeps this up, I’ll hold him in about as high intellectual regard as Delta House.

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Should Churches Be Tax Exempt?

May 10, 2012

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The Washington National Cathedral, also known ...

The passing of Amendment One in North Carolina yesterday got me thinking about a long-standing law in the United States that gives tax-exempt status to recognized religious institutions. The basic idea is that the US was founded on religious freedom and the surest way to prevent the free exercise of religion is to tax it . Exempting a church from taxes is also one of the best ways to keep the “separation of church and State” as described by Thomas Jefferson in his letter to the Danbury Baptists. This nation was founded on the basis that people should be able to practice whatever religion they’d like, and the government should have no ability to prosecute or privileged individuals for religious reasons – it’s supposedly why the Pilgrims came across on the Mayflower.

Over the past few months many churches in North Carolina have taken a rather active stance in favor of Amendment One, from simply putting up signs in favor of the amendment to having their pastors actively speak to the media that they are supporting the amendment. Beyond that I’ve heard quite a bit of anecdotal evidence that some churches are even telling their congregation that they should vote for Amendment One. One of the biggest Holy Rollers of all time, Billy Graham, came out enthusiastically for Amendment One. By taking an active stance for such a politically divisive issue, these churches are without a doubt getting political – if that’s the case, shouldn’t the rewards for staying politically neutral, tax exemption, be taken away?

A tax exemption is not a right, there is no constitutional mention at all of a religious institution’s right to not pay taxes. In fact, there are forms and qualifications to submit to the IRS that any tax exempt organization has to complete to show that they get the privilege of paying less or no taxes. The whole purpose of the tax exemption in the first place was because churches were believed to “fill in the gaps” in terms of charity and helping the poor and destitute, the gaps that the government was unwilling or unable to take care of. If a church is taking a political stance, then they are intrinsically swaying voters and changing outcomes and results regardless of the original intentions.

The right to not pay taxes is fine for charities, but when a church decides to speak out against individual rights the IRS has the right to veto that church’s application for tax-exempt status.

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Infrastructure Maintenance: Spend A Little Now Or a Lot Later

April 19, 2012

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Minneapolis, MN, August 5, 2007 -- Cars and ro...

Minneapolis, MN, August 5, 2007 -- Cars and roadway litter the river where the I-35 bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. FEMA/Todd Swain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the loads of debt talk in American politics recently there’s an interesting thing that’s been going on that a lot of people haven’t noticed: the yield on the 10 year Treasury Note (the main way the government borrows money) has been consistently low.  In fact, it’s been trending downward for months now, despite the debt fiasco from last year.  What does this mean in layman’s terms?  Other people can’t get enough of American debt.  Despite all our problems, people still see US debt as one of the safest things on the planet to invest in, and they’re willing to accept almost no return at all on it.  In fact since inflation is around 2.5% and the yield fluctuates between 2 and 3% investors could actually be losing a bit of money to hold American debt.

There’s another interesting trend that’s been going on longer and only occasionally gets press time when something REALLY bad happens.  That trend is failing infrastructure.  Remember back in 2007 there was quite the tragedy when the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis, MN collapsed during rush hour.  Thirteen people were killed, a schoolbus of kids almost fell.  Millions were spent in the repair and close to a quarter of a billion dollars was spent on a replacement bridge.  A dozen people were directly put out of work because of the collapse, and possibly hundreds more had reduced hours or were laid off later from the aftermath.  The state of US infrastructure is just now starting to get so much press because so much of it is near the breaking point.  A simple search on “failing infrastructure” on Google News gives 1000 results.  Nearly 70,000 bridges in the US are considered “structurally deficient” at this time, meaning engineers have decided the need major repairs or all-out replacement.  That’s more bridges than there are McDonald’s restaurants.  It’s not just safety, either; Detroit, Orlando, San Diego, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Atlanta, and the big daddy, LA are all meccas of one thing:  Horrible Traffic.  Hundreds of man hours each year can be wasted by just a single person sitting in traffic.  Multiply that times the entire commuting work force.  Don’t care about traffic?  There’s sure to be an infrastructure problem to suit your interest.  The Power Grid needs major overhaul, and just about everything needs electrical power these days.  Cyber Security is also a huge deal these days, a very well-funded and clever organization could probably cause billions in damage and/or losses in just a few hours.

I’m sure some of you are wondering what the Treasury Note and infrastructure have to do with each other, right?  A lot of you see two problems, I see a solution.  If people can’t get enough of debt, let’s give ’em some of ours and use that money to fix what is more vital to our way of life than troops in Afghanistan or the next generation stealth fighter or whatever it is the military spends its trillions on.  As it stands right now America is an obese teenager with Birkenstocks held together with duct tape concerned about buying the latest Glock 9mm handgun.  Not unlike FDRs New Deal, infrastructure problems like these will put people back to work, which will get people spending, which will increase tax revenues, which will give the government more leeway on paying back debt.

I’m sure some of you are thinking it’s stupid to spend at this point in time, but let me put it to you this way:  What’s more fiscally responsible, spending X dollars now to replace something before it breaks, or spending X dollars plus Y lives in the future when that thing breaks, plus have the breakage cost millions more in lost business.  We’re going to pay for it either way, why not pay less before it breaks and ensure safety than wait for it to break and pay many times more?

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Who Agrees With Rush Limbaugh?

March 8, 2012

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WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 23:  Sandra Fluke, a...

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably well aware that last week Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown law student a “slut” and demanded that she post videos of herself having sex because she (according to Rush) wanted the government to pay for her birth control. There’s just so much wrong with this statement it might be hard to tackle it in one article, but I’m going to give it the old college try.

As the story goes, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown Law student, testified in front of congress in late February in support of President Obama’s proposed mandate that insurance companies be required to offer women’s contraceptives like any other covered medication. She argued that birth control for women can cost as much as $1000 a year and low cost/free clinics could not help in many cases. In her testimony she stated her friend has a medical condition, polycistic ovary syndrome, and birth control pills are prescribed by a doctor to treat that condition. Despite this fact, the insurance company got in between her friend and her friend’s doctor (you know, that very thing Republicans argued Obama care would do? Yeah, it’s already being done by insurance companies). In response to this, Rush Limbaugh said,

What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

Later that day Limbaugh also said the following:

Can you imagine if you’re her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be? Your daughter goes up to a congressional hearing conducted by the Botox-filled Nancy Pelosi and testifies she’s having so much sex she can’t afford her own birth control pills and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the Pope.

Furthermore, on March 1st (a few days later) he continued on this same subject and said,

So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.

My first thought is that if Mr. Limbaugh thinks he has a right to watch videos of women who want birth control covered by their health insurance companies having sex, then I want videos of Rush Limbaugh in agonizing pain because his health insurance company paid for his extreme doses of oxycontin. I’m just following his line of logic, shouldn’t be a big deal to him, right? Also, Rush really is showing his ignorance if he thinks you need to take more birth control pills the more sex you have. I guess he’s just too used to popping his narcotics from dozens of different prescriptions he got from his housekeeper when he has issues, so he figures throwing more pills at something should help get rid of the problem faster or better.

Ms. Fluke’s testimony was a response by Democrats in response to Republicans inviting an all-male, all-conservative panel to discuss the requirement that health insurance companies provide contraceptives in the same fashion as other drugs. If the democrats really wanted to balance out a panel of 10 conservative males discussing contraceptives, they could have called Ellen DeGeneres, Rose O’Donnell, and Iceland Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir to discuss Viagra and prostate health issues. Again, it’s along the same lines of logic, just taken to the opposite extreme.

I’m actually not quite sure why the big conservative religions are so uptight about this issue. It’s pretty widely known that the Catholic church (still) opposes the use of contraceptives, ironic considering 98% of Catholic women use or have used birth control. You’d think they would want to make sure their own people were following their views before trying to actually speak out vehemently about them. I guess it’s along the lines of Republicans being so outspoken against homosexuality when so many of them are caught having or soliciting gay sex.

I’d like to end on a note of linking this issue with another current event, the Republican Candidates. The response of the current 4 candidates has been tepid, at best, with Ron Paul being the most honest – he said Limbaugh is most concerned with his fiscal bottom line.  Yet any candidate not named Ron Paul is completely willing to keep railing about how we need to attack Iran, despite the fact that wars in the Middle East tend to be unpopular and cost the lives of thousands of young Americans and simply throw more fuel on the fire of terrorism. What does it say about a man who’s willing to start a war that will have nearly zero repercussions for him, but he’s unwilling to stand up to Rush Limbaugh? Do we really want someone like that for president?

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Is It Ever OK to Use Torture?

February 9, 2012

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Medieval torture rack

Image via Wikipedia

This is certainly a busy week for interesting political news. We have Rick Santorum winning the Republican caucuses in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. In California we have Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We even have a news story that’s an extremely interesting read; more and more countries are moving away from a United States style of constitution. Yet, I’m not going to cover any of those. I’m going to talk about something that quietly reared its ugly head in the US’s neighbor to the north.

Open your imagination for a bit and picture something many people have pictured before: 24’s Jack Bauer, played by Kiefer Sutherland.  Somewhere there’s a bomb ticking away, set to explode. Jack has one of the suspects in custody and needs to find this bomb before it blows up, possibly killing thousands of innocent civilians. The suspect sits there, hands cuffed behind his back. A fresh welt on his cheek clearly shows he’s taken a hard punch or two in the last minute. Jack pulls out his trusty sidearm, and puts it up against the suspect’s knee, clearly intent on using harsh and violent methods to extract the information he needs to save the day and be the hero.

Too overblown? In the Tom Clancy book The Sum Of All Fears the United States has been the victim of a terrorist nuclear attack, the perpetrators have been caught, and vengeance is being sought. Good-guy hero John Clark gets the evil-doers to ‘fess up by breaking all their fingers, preventing the US from mistakenly nuking the Muslim holy city of Qom located in Iran and making good vibes spread all around. Tom Clancy has been hailed as ultra-realistic, so how can this be unfeasible?

So what does Canada have to do with this? Well, it was revealed this week that the Canadian federal government had directed the CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, to use any and all information – including information derived from torture – when public safety is at stake. I know, I know, some of you are saying to yourself “but this is information that was simply passed on to them, and it could save innocent lives, what’s the big deal?” The big deal is that previously the Canadian government said if there was any indication that intelligence was “tainted” – essentially derived in any way from torture – that intelligence would be discounted. Some of you are still wondering what the big deal is, because The Bad Guys would do anything to hurt us, including lying and torturing, right? The big deal is actually a lot of little deals, including honor.

First and foremost it has been proven on many occaisions that torture is not a reliable method of extracting information. Legitimate bad guys will give false information simply to make the pain stop. Innocent folks will confess to crimes they didn’t commit simply to make the pain stop. Pain has the effect of removing the mind from long-term decisions; if you’re being tortured you do the most expediant thing to make the torture stop. Former Army Interrogator Travis Hall goes even a step further saying that when a person is subject to extreme stress due to torture or the threat of torture, they will have trouble recalling exact information. Do you really want a government’s secret agencies using information that may not be correct over direct intelligence usually obtained through years of hard work? The idea of using any method necessary to save people might be a romantic one, but you’re going to end up flat-out wrong at some point if you attempt to save people based on false information, and then you end up not only not saving people, but you’ve then tortured for no good reason too.

Second, torture is immoral. Part of being a civilized society is not torturing people. Once you start waterboarding, breaking fingers, sleep deprivation, etc, you’ve already lost your civilization. Torture is not part of a zero-sum game, either. Higher stakes do not merit “harsher” methods of interrogation – once you’ve exacted that first amount of deliberate pain with the intention of gaining information you’ve already revealed yourself as so scared that you’ll do “anything” to gain said information. Part of what makes, and made, the United States the best place in the world to live is the fact that we’re better than that. We signed the Geneva Treaties. We decried torture as wrong in World War II when it was used against us. We said it’s wrong, we need our actions to speak louder than our words.

Third, torture breaks the “Golden Rule.” In almost any instance of diplomatic protest the country protesting is stating that the country they’re protesting is doing something that’s just downright wrong. “Hey, we wouldn’t torture your people, you shouldn’t torture ours.” Treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. Devil’s advocate asks, “If we don’t want to torture people, why do we train our soldiers to withstand torture, then?” We also train our soldiers proper protocols for biological, and chemical attacks, but you don’t see us using biological and chemical weapons on people. Part of why Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) works is because we don’t want those same weapons used on us. By using torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantonimo, we have at the very least increased the possibility it will be used on our citizens.

Finally, torture is not only against our own constitution, but also against the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the general idea that torture is degrading and usually permanantly damaging, and after witnessing what the Nazis had done to prisoners in World War 2, the nations of the world all came together and signed the UDHR.

Why is the Canada issue a big deal, then? Well, in my first point I noted that information extracted under torture is unreliable. Secondly, if you put torture up against other capital crimes like rape and murder, condoning it is almost as heinous as committing it yourself. It’s a shame that the issue keeps popping up, in part thanks to the glamorization of Jack Bauer getting the job done – despite the US Army’s protests to the image it portrayed. It doesn’t change the fact that torture is not only wrong, immoral, and inhumane, it’s ineffective.


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